Digital business transformation in action: What next for CIOs in Singapore?

This recent CIO ASEAN roundtable, in association with Lenovo, assessed the digital maturity of organisations in Singapore, alongside the key opportunities and challenges ahead

Irrespective of size, stature or sector, digital transformation initiatives are underway in organisations across Singapore.

Driven by a desire to maintain relevance and future-proof operations, businesses are building out strategies to capitalise on the emergence of new technologies, underpinned by transformative business models and mindsets.

Yet challenges remain in a market hampered by legacy commitments, outdated practices and increased complexity, as CIOs navigate a rapidly evolving technology landscape.

Step forward the concept of ‘Intelligent Transformation’, designed to combine the capabilities of data, computing power and algorithms in the pursuit of digitalisation.

“Intelligent Transformation is a strategy that we place at the heart of everything we do,” said Sumir Bhatia, president of Asia Pacific, Lenovo Data Center Group. “Thriving in a faster, more connected world, Intelligent Transformation goes beyond connected devices, combining with solutions that enhance the power of connected devices in smart and novel ways.

“We believe that the three key building blocks for Intelligent Transformation lie in data, computing power and algorithms, and therefore, we have invested in AI and machine learning, 5G and placed a premium on connected devices from edge to core.”

To capitalise from an Intelligent Transformation standpoint, Bhatia said businesses must assume leadership in three distinct, but related areas known as the “3S’s”, spanning smart IoT [Internet of Things]; smart infrastructure and smart verticals.

“Every company in the world will win or lose based on their ability to capture, make sense of, and use the data they collect from the physical, connected world – data is their most valuable asset,” he added.

As a result, Bhatia said companies must “dramatically change” the way IT operates and delivers value to the organisation, through transitioning to the next generation of data centres.

“Smart IoT will see an increase in connections from people to people, people to machine and machine to machine – all of that needs smart infrastructure,” he added.

“Smart infrastructure will provide the foundation for computing, storage and networking power to support smart devices that will more than double in number in 2020, creating enormous amount of data.

“When our SIoT devices are combined with smart infrastructure to understand data, we can now provide new insights and offerings that enhance our customers’ business processes across verticals including those in smart retail, smart manufacturing, smart healthcare and more.”

Digital maturity

At City Developments Limited, a Singapore-listed real estate company, the digital transformation process started some years ago, with a key focus on customer value, operational efficiency and employee satisfaction.

“Digital transformation is not simply about a nice-looking application, so we invested a significant amount of effort to build and standardise on a strong digital core set of systems,” said Ivan Ng, CTO of City Developments. “Building upon that foundation, we have also developed new digital initiatives that will enhance our engagement with our customers."

Leveraging technologies to provide a “differentiated and enhanced customer experience”, City Developments recently launched a new smart building application, CityNexus. The app taps into the potential of cloud, artificial intelligence (AI) and IoT to merge traditional IT with operational technology.

“This allows us to help redefine our customer experiences and provide a smart workplace for the future,” Ng added. “Having deployed some key digital initiatives in Singapore, we are keen to scale out these technologies into other buildings, geographies and businesses.

“We are also looking at how to be more cyber resilient, given the increased digital footprint for the company.”

Meanwhile at Challenger Technologies – a Singapore-based IT products retailer – the digital transformation process started in 2011, spanning three core phases of deployment.

“The first phase ran for four years and focused on the integration of back office functions, including the deployment of an integrated enterprise resource planning [ERP] and point-of-sale [POS] systems,” recalled Joshua Woon, CTO of Challenger Technologies.

“Phase two ran from 2016 to 2018 and centred around the convergence of online-offline capabilities and mobile application platforms. This included the deployment of an online marketplace with real-time inventory checking on retail stocks, alongside click-collect and click-deliver strategies.

“Phase three started in 2018 and focuses on the expansion of innovative technologies such as facial recognition, QR codes and robotic process automation, as well as AI and machine learning.”

Speaking as director of IT at AkzoNobel Paints Asia Pacific, Manohar Venkatagiri emphasised the importance of creating a “customer centric strategy” when undergoing widespread transformation initiatives within an organisation.

“But also, being mindful that experimental digital investments will be required for improving digital literacy, building capability and for creating early success stories,” Venkatagiri qualified. “Consequently, our digital transformation spans multiple domains at the moment with varying maturity levels.”

Alongside digital marketing and supply chain strategies, the multi-national corporation is also building out a digital workplace strategy through an “advanced” implementation process.

“We are moving towards an internet-centric workplace and have done significant investments in digitising employee workplace in our top 10 countries,” Venkatagiri said. “We are looking at shaping our workplace and connectivity to enable increased digitisation at work.

“We are also in the early stages of looking at how to digitise our employee experience in their engagement with our shared services centres around the world. Our innovation strategy has an embedded digital element to it.”

Digital roadblocks

Despite a clear direction of digital travel in Singapore, key roadblocks remain for technology leaders during the implementation process.

“One of the key roadblocks is a lack of clear vision, as well as a limited understanding of the technologies available,” said Bhatia of Lenovo. “Instead of immediately jumping into big projects, organisations need to approach digital transformation in a considered and careful manner to ensure long-term success – the first steps are the most critical to avoid mistakes and rising costs down the road.”

According to Bhatia, CIOs should have clarity as to what they want to achieve with digital transformation, and the steps therefore necessary in order to achieve such ambitions.

“Define the return on the investment and the effort expended in the transformation,” he advised. “Factor in how technologies might scale as the business transforms and what infrastructure is needed in order to support that growth.

“CIOs should also bear in mind factors such as balancing architecture speed and architecture integrity – what’s the organisation’s appetite for risk and what risk is your organisation prepared to consider in its systems architecture?”

As demand for digitalisation across industries increases, CIOs must continue to work closely with key stakeholders to identify solutions that integrate with business strategies and the changing landscape of the digital economy.

“An area that’s getting more recognition is the impact on the workforce and their ability to become more mobile,” explained Lea Angelin-Linker, IT director and country manager of Southeast Asia at Credit Suisse.

“Mobility solutions, which encompasses all aspects of the technology ecosystem – from cloud, data, application design to AI – are a priority for most organisations as it’s become the most widely used channel for consumers.

“Digitalising solutions for the mobile platform are complex since you need to consider design, functionality and security. This becomes a challenge for organisations where often projects quickly become out of scope – particularly if you are trying to cater for different stakeholders.”

Consequently, Angelin-Linker said technology priorities should centre around defining the problem statement or workflow based on the customer journey.

“This is achieved through use of data analytics. ensuring security is at the forefront of the design and ensuring you have the support of all key stakeholders – from senior management to development community,” she added.

Taking the conversation further, Quinny Lei, vice president of Group IT at AMOS Group, acknowledged “employee pushback” as a blocker to digital success, outlining the need for effective change management at a company-wide level.

“Technology and disruption go hand in hand,” Lei said. “Innovation is driving business change at unprecedented rates, with quicker adoption to stay relevant.

“Digital transformation is key to AMOS enabling business growth and hence the emphasis on digitalisation is highly regarded. Following the merger of two businesses, AMOS’ transformation is still in the initial stage of stabilising the infrastructure and building our data backbone.

“We have embarked on email synchronisation, network connectivity optimisation, enhanced security realisation and policy deployments both on the ground and to the servers.”

Delving deeper, Ng of City Developments acknowledged that despite investments in technology platforms being “clearly necessary”, such an approach in insolation remains “insufficient for success”.

“To be successful, we believe that strong leadership, enterprise-wide digital capabilities and a culture that supports change are critical,” he advised. “Of these, key roadblocks are often not technology related, but with how this transformation process is being managed.

“Digital transformation is about people and the ability to bring them along the journey is vital for the change to be sustained.

“Beyond motivating people, celebrating success and cheering them on when going digital feels uncomfortable or difficult, companies can address this resistance by being transparent and consistent in their communication about the change that is on the way, the company’s motivation for pursuing the change and the expected outcome.”

For Venkatagiri of AkzoNobel Paints, digital literacy stands tall as a “significant roadblock” for execution.

“We are investing in educating key stakeholders of the need to think digital and think data in particular,” he said. “It’s a journey that runs in parallel with our investment in digital technologies.

“Data centric decision making is another key aspect of our focus to enable digitisation success. We are sharply focussed on generating accurate data and working with data driven insights.”

In rounding off the discussion, Bhatia of Lenovo observed that in Singapore, businesses are looking to shift focus to service-oriented delivery, consumption and operating models.

“While we see some customers align to a single approach, most are following a diversified strategy,” he concluded. “For example, a lot of customers we talk to are at a place where they would like a public cloud experience behind their firewall to deliver IT agility, all the while meeting their compliance needs. We have a unique product that addresses this requirement.

“We have also noticed a trend in shifting data from core data centre to edge device. Data is the biggest asset for customers to stay competitive in their business – data about their business, customers and trends etc.

“With a shift in consumption models, this data is now generated everyday across different touch points – for example, IoT devices. By allowing them to capture this data at the edge, instead of sending the data back to the core data centre or cloud, it’s much faster and cost-effective to process.”

To find out more about Lenovo and Intelligent Transformation, click here.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.